Editor's note: The first paragraph of this story has been edited to say "will no longer be accepted."
BROOKINGS – Plastic bags will no longer be accepted in the recycling stream for the city of Brookings, according to Chelsie Bakken, public information officer.
“It’s a change, but the industry is changing,” she said, adding it is not a decision made by the City of Brookings.
“If we could take the plastics in our single stream and have it continue to be taken by those organizations, we absolutely would,” Bakken said.
The ban, which started Jan. 1, includes plastic garbage bags that people use to carry items and plastic grocery bags donated in bulk for recycling, she said.
The decision was made by Millennium Recycling in Sioux Falls because plastic bags get tangled in the sorting machinery and small pieces of the bags can contaminate other recycling, Bakken said.
If plastic bags keep being put in the recycling stream, the city will face fines, she added.
More information is available on the city’s website at cityofbrookings.org/262/Recycling online.
Recycling picked up in the City of Brookings is delivered to Cook’s Wastepaper and Recycling of Brookings.
“Then they deliver it to their servicers that recycle different materials,” Bakken said.
Millennium Recycling of Sioux Falls is a processor and broker of recyclable material serving a large portion of the Upper Midwest, according to millenniumrecycling.com online.
In June, Millennium announced it would no longer accept plastic bags for recycling, effective immediately, and that the company was working with local waste haulers and surrounding communities to implement the change.
The one exception is shredded paper, which can still be left in a bag, according to the city of Brookings website. The bag will be removed before the paper is recycled, Bakken said.
Millennium’s President Shannon Dwire said the change was due to current market conditions related to China’s National Sword program. The website said while markets are declining, the number of bags in the recycling stream has increased.
“With no market, it no longer makes sense for us to collect them,” the website quoted Dwire.
“The material is considered a very high-cost item due to the incredible amount of labor required to process them. In an effort to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and stay ahead of the changing marketplace, the company has made the ultimate decision to stop accepting them,” according to the website.
“Plastic bags and film have always been a problem in the recycling industry,” the website quotes Dwire, “They wrap around equipment and get jammed in our screens, slowing down the entire process and making it very difficult to cut them loose.”
That means the whole system is shut down for as long as it takes to untangle the mess, which cuts into production and adds to costs, Bakken said.
Plastic bags shred easily, and sometimes pieces of them find their way into other baled-up recyclables, like paper.
“Then it also contaminates the paper streams,” Bakken said, which hurts the paper’s recyclability, like weeds in a field hurt the crop’s yield.
She hopes that eliminating plastic bags will “cut costs, keep prices down, at the recycling centers.”
Changes for Brookings
Millennium’s decision means changes for Brookings, Bakken said.
Those who take part in recycling that is picked up by Cook’s are being asked to put their recycling items loose in their blue recycling cart, with no bag. If they want to contain items in something, they can put them in a recyclable box.
Those who use a communal recycling dumpster at apartment complexes can put loose items in the dumpster, as well, Bakken said.
People can collect recycling items in their homes in whatever they want – be it a bag or trash can or box – “and then as they take it down to dump it, they can just dump it right into their cart,” Bakken said.
The city has a bit of experience with loose recyclables already, she added. Todd Langland, director of Solid Waste for the city, said some community members have gone bagless for a while now.
“People that are environmentally conscious and choose to not use bags in the first place. He said that there had not been an issue with those,” Bakken said.
They realize a cart could get blown over or might not line up with a truck, allowing the items get loose. If that happens, the workers will collect the recycling, Bakken said.
“There will be some (spillage), that’s just the nature of what it is,” she said.
With the ban in effect, any plastic bags that are found in the recycling will cost the city.
“If we have too much plastic bags within the recycling system when we deliver them, the city will be fined,” Bakken said.
The amount of the fine is yet to be determined, she added.
City staff visited the Cook’s facility Thursday to check how much plastic was still in the recycling stream.
“There were still some film plastic (plastic bags) within the single-stream recycling content, but it was greatly reduced,” Bakken reported Friday. “Community members are doing a great job with the requested change to the service. We hope that with continued education that the occurrence of commingled film plastics within the recycling content will be reduced even more as we move forward.”
She also said that plastic bags that are mixed in with the other recycling items will need to be removed in the future to keep them from tangling in the sorting machines.
“They will likely end up in a landfill,” she noted.
Glass, cans, plastics, paper
Other items will be accepted in the recycling stream, she announced.
“We just updated our recycling requirement,” Bakken said. The updated list is now on the website.
“All colors of glass are now accepted, and labels do not need to be removed from the glass,” she said.
In fact, labels do not need to be removed from any containers that the city accepts in recycling, including cans and plastic containers.
“It still needs to be clean, but labels are fine,” Bakken added.
“Bright-colored paper is also being accepted,” she said.
Stores will take bags
Plastic bags can still be used for trash, Bakken noted, but she hopes that people will donate extra plastic bags instead of throwing them in the landfill.
Walmart and HyVee both have receptacles near the front of their stores for any donated plastic bags, which are then sent in for recycling.
Brookings Store Director Tom Daschel said the bags are sent back to their distribution center and then sent to Minneapolis.
“The bags get recycled into outdoor benches and playground equipment,” he added.
Bakken sees Millennium’s decision as a good thing for recycling.
“I’m kind of excited that this will push bags to go to Walmart and HyVee because that’s a cleaner form of recycling anyway,” she said. “There’s a stronger likelihood that that will actually get recycled so that’s the most environmentally conscious decision that people can make is to take them there.”
Looking to the future
She knows change is difficult for everyone, but sometimes it’s about “doing what’s right and it’s not always what’s easiest,” Bakken said.
“We’re focusing on education and encouraging the community to … reduce, reuse, recycle – we’ve heard it for years, but it’s so important. If we can reduce how many we get in the first place that means there’s less that are going in,” Bakken said. “We’re asking that everybody help and do their part.”
The industry changes all the time and Brookings will change with it, she said.
“Moving forward, we’ll continue to evaluate different things in the industry and adjust as necessary,” Bakken said.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]